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MOSCOW — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky led a major government shake-up Wednesday, ousting his prime minister and several other Cabinet members less than a year in office.

The reshuffle — the second by Zelensky in a month — is probably related to the slumping approval ratings of Oleksiy Honcharuk, the outgoing prime minister, amid Ukraine’s economic downturn. But internal rifts could have played a role as well.

Honcharuk criticized Zelensky as having a ‘‘primitive’’ understanding of the economy in a recording that leaked in January.

Other reported changes include replacing Vadym Prystaiko as foreign minister with Dmytro Kuleba, who is also the country’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration.


Honcharuk, 35, who was Ukraine’s youngest prime minister and vaunted as a new face for a government historically plagued by corruption, lasted just six months.

His apparent replacement doesn’t boast much more executive experience. Denys Shmygal, who was appointed deputy prime minister last month, is expected to lead the new government, according to Ukrainian media reports.

Melinda Haring, deputy director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, wrote that Wednesday was ‘‘shaping up to be a massacre’’ for Ukraine’s government with a ‘‘number of reform-minded ministers and top officials’’ exiting along with Honcharuk.

‘‘Every Western ambassador worth his or her salt should be walking the musty halls of Bankova and demanding answers,’’ she said, referring to the presidential office. ‘‘Ukraine has capable, proven ministers. Why change them now?’’

Zelensky, a 41-year-old comedian-turned-actor, won a landslide victory last spring on promises to end the war with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and curb the influence of the country’s powerful oligarchs.

Zelensky became a central figure in the House hearings that led to President Trump’s impeachment — and later acquittal by the Senate. At home, meanwhile, Zelensky’s administration has been under turmoil.


‘‘The current government knows what to do, but knowing is not enough,’’ Zelensky told parliament Wednesday. ‘‘This is the first government where there is no corruption, but not stealing is not enough. This is a government of new faces, but new faces are not enough. We need new brains and new hearts.’’

Tension between Zelensky and Honcharuk surfaced in January, when audio leaked of Honcharuk telling a closed-door meeting with several ministers that Zelensky ‘‘has a very primitive understanding of economic processes.’’ But Honcharuk went on to describe himself as an ‘‘idiot’’ when it came to the economy.

Honcharuk did not deny that it was his voice in the recording, but he said on Facebook that the recording was doctored from ‘‘snippets of government meetings’’ to give the impression ‘‘that I and my team do not respect the president.’’

He offered to resign, but Zelensky did not accept his resignation at the time. Because Honcharuk cannot be fired less than a year into office according to Ukrainian law, he had to resign willingly again ahead of Wednesday’s parliamentary session.

The shake-up comes days after Kyiv held talks with a visiting mission from the International Monetary Fund regarding approval for a $5.5 billion loan program.

Shmygal, 44, has a business background and worked for two years as an executive at DTEK, an energy holding owned by Ukraine’s richest billionaire, Rinat Akhmetov.

Shmygal’s ties to Akhemtov, however, may draw questions about whether Zelensky is living up to campaign pledges of pushing oligarchs out of politics.


Shmygal ‘‘was the governor of the sleepy mountainous region of Ivano-Frankivsk for eight months,’’ Haring said. ‘‘When I asked Kyiv politicos about Shmygal, I got the same response time and time again: ‘Who?’’’

Wednesday’s upheaval follows Zelensky’s move to dump chief of staff Andriy Bohdan by presidential decree on Feb. 11 after weeks of swirling rumors of bitter power struggles on his team.

Before he joined Zelensky’s team, Bohdan was a lawyer for magnate Ihor Kolomoisky, who controls the Kyiv-based television network 1+1 as well as interests in energy and airlines.

The new chief of staff, presidential aide Andriy Yermak, had met with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and was mentioned multiple times during Trump’s impeachment hearings and trial.